My husband David was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Over the course of the 42months from diagnosis to death we experienced oncology care, palliative care, and hospice care. Over the years, we learned many different ways to cope with the emotions and challenges we faced along the way. One of the most valuable tools for us was writing.
Throughout my husbands illness we both kept a detailed journals of our personal emotions and experiences. I chose to journal not only as a way to record events but also as a way to let some of the emotion slowly seep out from behind the floodgates I built to maintain control. At times, my only release of the most emotional experience of my life was when I could privately spill my feelings onto the page.
From these journal notes I wrote a series of essays sharing my private emotions with those who were helping patients and caregivers go through similar journeys. The writing of these personal reflections helped me organize my thoughts and communicate my feelings not only to my health care team, to the public, but even to my dying husband. As my chief editor he read and critiqued all my writing. I remember after he read the essay on “The Journey of a Million Losses” he turned to me and said, “Wow, now I understand why you have reacted to me the way you have.” That essay opened an important dialogue between us that never would have happened otherwise.
Admittedly there were times the hurt and exhaustion were too deep to write. In fact, the feelings were so private I feared writing them down. Embarrassed and guilty of the anger I sometimes felt, and exhausted from the emotion and energy required near the end, there were times I was unable to write my thoughts or feelings. However, when I pushed forward and wrote I found it very helpful. It was not only helpful at the time, but it has continued to be helpful now as I go back and read the narratives and analyze the experience.
In the months and years since my husband’s death I have found comfort in the review and organizing of both sets of our journals. I have found it therapeutic to let the tears flow as I write stories that I do not want to forget. I have also round it useful to share our notes with our children as we together remember and reconstruct those months.
Writing continues to be an important way for me to cope with my grief and reorganize my life. For those who have not tried it I encourage you to start slow and find a way to put your emotions on paper, let off some pressure, and try to understand your thoughts. It not only helps for now, it will help you as you some day want to go back to understand the events of the illness and journey in an effort to understand and honor the one you love.